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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: February ::
Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0394  Thursday, 27 February 2003

[1]     From:   Himadri Chatterjee <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 12:25:44 +0000 (GMT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0346 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[2]     From:   Claude Caspar <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 07:35:59 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[3]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 10:25:54 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[4]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 13:27:04 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[5]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 14:49:10 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[6]     From:   C. David Frankel <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 19:09:02 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[7]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 16:17:35 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

[8]     From:   R. Schmeeckle <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 20:37:54 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Himadri Chatterjee <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 12:25:44 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 14.0346 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0346 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

On reflection, I would now agree with Mr Weiss that it is indeed
possible to present Brutus' receiving of the news of Portia's death in a
manner that reflects poorly indeed on Brutus' character. I shall try to
seek out the BBC video to which he refers.

But this incident *may* be interpreted differently.  And we are, of
course, assuming that there was no error in the Folio text, and that
Shakespeare intended both passages to remain - i.e. Brutus first telling
Cassius of his wife's death; and later, Brutus denying all knowledge of
it. But if we do make this assumption, Mr Weiss' reading of it is
certainly valid.

On the other point, though, I find myself sticking to my guns. To recap,
Mr Weiss points out that Brutus, without being asked to do so, assumes
leadership both of the conspiracy and of the military campaign
afterwards; and that this implies an ambition so powerful, that there
was no need for Shakespeare to spell out explicitly that ambition was
one of his motives in assassinating Caesar.

Even after reflection, I cannot say I agree on this point. I have worked
in a number of large companies, and have encountered people who attempt
to assume leadership in every project they are involved in; but it
hardly follows that they want to become managing director. It is not a
question of spelling it out - it is a question of what is credible:
Brutus seriously considers his motives in his soliloquy in II,i. If
ambition were so major a motive, is it really credible that he shouldn't
mention this even to himself?

Macbeth mentions his ambition quite explicitly in his soliloquy in
I,vii; why not Brutus?

In more general terms, if Brutus really was as despicable as he has been
made out to be, it is hard to see why he should inspire such loyalty
from so many people. That he is a flawed character I have no doubt; but
speaking personally, I cannot think of another character in Shakespeare
whom I admire more.

Regards,
Himadri

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Claude Caspar <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 07:35:59 -0500
Subject: 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

>Isn't one man's assassin another man's liberator?  If the officers who
>plotted against Hitler had succeeded in killing them, would they be
>considered assassins?  If, and I think a case can be made for it, Caesar
>is a tyrant who would, indeed, "keep us all in servile fearfulness" then
>Brutus, Cassius, and the rest are assassins (used pejoratively) because
>Antony and Octavius won.

My research on Seneca led me to a wonderful book, Ramsay MacMullen's
"Enemies of the Roman Order- treason, unrest, & alienation in the
Empire."

It seems to have been the first study of its kind as of 1966- if anyone
knows of other such, please let us know.

It begins with Brutus, et ali.  The wealth of contextual material is
marvelous, going backwards & forwards, at once. Though a student of the
period, I confess to realizing much ignorance in the subtle relations
only a lifetime of scholarship can ferret out.  It focuses on the
traditions of elequentia & libertas, including the important concept
parreshia, free speech- tracing from its Greek origins.  All the usual
suspects are considered- see especially Cassius, Lucan, and most of all
for my purposes regarding Shakespeare studies, Seneca; and I especially
appreciated the philosophical perspective, which pays dividends on many
counts.

What was at stake on the Ides of March is a pivot the moves us just as
much today as citizens & in international relations.

Consider the fine difference, in this book, between Cassius & Brutus:
Cassius was Epicurean compared with Brutus' Stoicism- how this plays
itself out through WS is thrilling, and speaks volumes for his
understanding & intelligence of his meager sources.

To have a real feel for what was at stake in history & Shakespeare's
treatment in JC, this book is a must for those who are interested in the
cultural history.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 10:25:54 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

I agree that there really isn't one protagonist to the play. But if I
had to choose, I would choose Brutus.

In my salad days, I was particularly fond of Antony. In my adolescent
vigor, I thought that Antony was the coveted part because of the great
speeches he gives in Act III and the fact that he essentially becomes
Caesar's avenger. He manipulated me at 15 as he does the mob.

But I have come to realize what Brutus is all about. Shakespeare chooses
to remind us frequently that the time of Julius Caesar is a time between
two triumvirates that shook the world and forged a new meaning to
empire. We are consistently reminded that we are in the aftermath of
Caesar's triumph over Pompey, but by the end of the play, we are pushed
to look ahead to the second triumvirate (which Shakespeare ultimately
covers quite satirically in Antony and Cleopatra, whether it is an
intended sequel or not). A supposed consensus government for the good of
the country is manipulated for personal ambition.

In between these times is a man who reminds us of the past, both through
the name of his ancestor and through his perspective on government.
Brutus is the outsider in this play because he alone is the major
character without the self-awareness of manipulation that is essential
to politics. Caesar is a master of it, and apparently he taught Antony
well. Antony deceives Brutus, just as Prince Hal deceives his play's
world, leading him to think that he is primarily disposed to revels and
not at all to politics. Casca is the satiric voice who sees through
Caesar, but who is manipulated by superstition into believing and
joining the conspiracy. Cassius can also see the machinations of
politics (although his actual sight is not too good) and is also a
master consensus builder. He puts the conspiracy together, and persuades
Brutus to act rather than contemplate.

Brutus is revered and respected, but lacks the political savvy to commit
the assassination and get away with it. He makes several mistakes,
underestimating Antony's charisma and overestimating Rome's common
sense. His speech is straightforward, in prose, and sincere. But
sincerity can be boring to a fickle public. Antony gives them spice,
accentuates the wounds, dangles the will as an attention getter, and
succeeds in getting the mob to hang on his every word. If he were a
politician today, he would be called the Great Communicator, a perfect
media creature. Brutus is not. All he has is his pure, sincere love for
the republic and the freedom of its citizens. It is not enough. He is
the equivalent of an Al Gore, a Gephardt, or the vast majority of
politicians of any party who are generally sincere but lack the public
fire to capture our imaginations and emotions. Brutus alone sticks out
as the square peg in the round hole. I honestly believe that he is the
sole character who maintains our sympathy throughout the play (except if
we are sucked into Antony's rhetoric for a time as well). In the
extraordinary tent scene, it is Brutus who breaks the tension with the
news of Portia's death, stopping Cassius in his tracks and forcing him
to apologize. The pathos in that scene is generated by him.

If anything, I think Caesar in a way is the dirge for the end of a time
when there were republics and people put their society before
themselves, a time before image was everything.

Brian Willis

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 13:27:04 -0600
Subject: 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

 Clifford Stetner offers this

>It seems to me that
>American sympathy ought to be on the side of the republic and against
>military dictators out to deify themselves and pass their autocratic
>power to whatever Neros and Caligulas happen to spring from their loins.

1. I'm not sure of the precise relevance of this to the play by WS.

2. I may be wrong (it happens), but my recollections of such reading as
I have done in Roman history indicate that Rome at this moment was
governed rather like one of those "banana republics" where a handful of
ancient, intermarried families control everything, and the rabble are
left to starve -- or support a military dictator who promises them a
slice of the pie. (I think Peron may be the best parallel.)

3. I don't see how Julius Caesar can be held responsible for Nero and
Caligula.

4. It seems -- no, wait, I just re-read (1) above --

Cheers
don

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 14:49:10 -0500
Subject: 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Clifford Stetner <
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 > writes,

>Caesar himself slew Pompey.

Not in history, nor, as far as I can recall, in Shakespeare.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           C. David Frankel <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 19:09:02 -0500
Subject: 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Although I agree in the main with Clifford Sterner, Brutus makes a
mistake in not seeing Antony for what he is:  a butcher.  He should have
agreed to kill him as Cassius urged, or at least to take him prisoner.
But, having decided against putting Antony to silence, he should at
least have had the political savvy to listen to Antony's oration.  Of
course, he had no choice, since Shakespeare wanted him elsewhere.

cdf

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 16:17:35 -0500
Subject: 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

While most of Clifford Stetner's comments are cogent and offer food for
discussion, I must take isue with his statement, "Caesar himself slew
Pompey."

According to Plutarch (Penguin Classics, Rex Warner translator), "but
just then [as the boat approached the shore Egypt, supposedly taking
Pompey to speak to Ptolemy ruler of Egypt], as Pompey took Philip's hand
so as to rise up more eaily to his feet, Septimius ran him through the
body with his sword from behind. . . ."

Septimius was hired by Achillas, long a manipulator within the court in
Egypt, who was among the purported greeting party that met Pompey and
offered to take him on their boat to meet with Ptolemy.  Egypt, not
Caesar, dispatched Pompey so as to avoid either displeasing Pompey by
refusing him entry or displeasing Caesar by allowing Pompey in.
Plutarch tells us that Theodotus, a professional rhetorician and a chief
counsel to Ptolemy, came up with this plan, reortedly adding afterwards
"the words: 'Dead men don't bite.'"

While Caesar certainly was in many ways tyrannical, what followed from
his assassination was the final death throes of the Roman republic,
setting up the assumption of the Emperorship by Octavian/Augustus, Dio
Filius.

Mari Bonomi

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R. Schmeeckle <
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Date:           Wednesday, 26 Feb 2003 20:37:54 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0383 Re: Julius Caesar's Protagonist

Dante deposits Brutus in the lowest circle of Hell, along with Judas
Iscariot and Cassius, all betrayers of benefactors.  Judas is portrayed
as a little worse, being chewed headfirst in one of Satan's three
mouths, whereas Brutus is being chewed feet first, his head dangling in
the rotten air.  I doubt that Shakespeare knew Dante, but he would
surely have been close to a medieval outlook.  Perhaps someone can
comment on the regard for Brutus in the English literary tradition prior
to Shakespeare.

Clifford Stetner wrote:

>Italians subjugated by the Etruscan tyrants). It seems to me that
>American sympathy ought to be on the side of the republic and against
>military dictators out to deify themselves and pass their autocratic
>power to whatever Neros and Caligulas happen to spring from their loins.

Agreed, when that is the real issue, and the issue is in doubt.

>Hamlet is an assassin, so no more noble than Oswald? Would we condemn

More noble than Oswald, perhaps, and with all the advantages of better
breeding.  But, nevertheless, as we are informed, a "noble mind
o'erthrown," who, in his attempt to avenge his father's death, just
makes a dirty mess, killing an innocent in the process.  Not that the
audience, and I suppose most of us, are not glad to see the worldly
Polonius get his comeuppance.

>Buckingham for stabbing Richard? The thanes for stringing up the
>Macbeths?  No one is perfect. Everyone is ambitious. All are hypocrites.

I'll pass on Buckingham.  As for Macbeth, he is a usurper, and the
result of the thanes stringing them up is the restoration of legitimate
rule.

>(pointed out that Caesar had killed Pompey)
>Hamlet, when Brutus set out to kill Caesar in the Capitol, he didn't
>futz around. Neither did he poison him (a favorite technique of Caesar's
>heirs) and try to deny his deed, but recognizing that the Roman
>republic, that had stood (despite the view of some that the Roman rabble
>were not up to the task) for centuries, was doomed to succumb to the
>inevitable processes of power lust, slew him openly and in public, and
>immediately confessed. If we take an atta

If he recognized that the Roman republic was "doomed to succumb,"
probably an accurate recognition in the circumstances, then his action,
rather than being noble, was just a foolish, futile gesture.

>"noble" than killing an enemy tyrant in unattainable open war, surely
>this is the most noble assassination of them all.

I do not dispute that it was the noblest assassination of them all, only
that it was a noble action, or that Brutus was noble, or that
Shakespeare intended to represent him as such.

>and Europe rather than America would be the oldest democracy. I think
>Antony's epitaph is sincere. If there is any irony in it, it is that it
>was Brutus' nobility that did him in, and the surviving Romans deserve
>the slavery they've asked for.

Antony's epitaph may be sincere, at least in his own estimation.  The
question is whether Shakespeare agreed with Antony's estimation, or, was
ironic in ending the play that way.  Brutus may have been as sincere as
Robespierre, another "idealist."

Roger Schmeeckle

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